Sean Kellehan–Dec. 10, 2010
OKEMOS, Mich–When it comes to student life in Okemos, the phrase “blink and you’ll miss it” comes to mind.
With the center of the community being under three miles from Michigan State University’s (MSU) large campus, it has the possibility of having a large and active student population, but strangely, it doesn’t.
“It is pretty quiet,” Meridian Police Chief David Hall said. “There’s a scattering of students here and there around the township.”
It’s not to say there aren’t any students that live within Okemos, there are. Even so, recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that only 14.5 percent of the population of Okemos are in the age range of a college-going adult, with the median age of the community being 38.9 years old.
This data begs the question, what’s the reason behind the small student population?
Okemos provides a variety of housing options that, if they chose, students could take advantage of. In fact, a quick search of Google yields 14 apartments complexes available for rent and that doesn’t even count other residential rental properties scattered across the community.
“If they [students] move into Okemos, basically they are moving into a bedroom community of the university, but they’re outnumbered greatly by everyone that lives around then.” Okemos resident and Senior Academic Specialist in the Engineering college at MSU Craig Gunn said.
Talking to local businesses only seems to confirm the lack of students traveling into or living in the area.
Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum is located at Okemos’ “Four Corners,” a group of businesses on Hamilton and Okemos Road that some residents refer to as downtown Okemos. A car ride down Grand River Avenue, or a hop on CATA bus route number one would get you to this tiny, fun and quirky eatery, but the staff almost never sees students walk through their doors.
“I’m kinda surprised by the lack of students that come in here, the crowd seems older for the most part,” waiter at Traveler’s Club Santos Ramos said. “Partially it’s the location, I’m sure, because we’re outside of East Lansing, and I don’t think people realize how close it is to the number one bus line.”
The story is the same for other local businesses in Okemos.
“We see a fair amount, but it’s not like a coffee shop,” Owner of Ace Hardware in Okemos Jim Raynak said.
Okemos library Public Services Head Sean Lyons said it’s not uncommon to see college-age students to be studying in the library.
Local businesses may not get much foot traffic from students, but there is one thing in Okemos that does, chain and franchise businesses. Thankfully for Okemos, they have a lot of them.
A drive down the stretch of Grand River Avenue that runs through Okemos will have you looking at more chain restaurants or big-box retailers than local businesses.
The Best Buy store near Grand River Avenue and Okemos Road gets about 40 to 50 percent of its business from students, store employee Halston Elezi said. Students can also almost always be seen the community’s Meijer, or across the street at Meridian Mall.
In the end though, looking at data (from the U.S. Census Bureau) about the community shows that even if students are choosing to shop in Okemos, they aren’t necessarily choosing to stay.
That same data also shows that Okemos is more of a family-oriented community. There are 5,442 family homes in the community, as opposed to 3,443 single homes.
MSU professor Clark Radcliffe chose to move his family from East Lansing to Okemos in 1988 because of that fact.
“Okemos is a very unique community, lots of degrees, lots of professional people,” Radcliffe said. “It’s not a university kind of place, Okemos is fairly isolated, but convenient.”
Through all of this it seems as if Okemos is not really a valid option for MSU students to make a home in, but even so, some students still do choose to call it home. One of those students is Journalism student Vicari Vollmar.
Vollmar is living in Okemos for her second year this semester. She couldn’t be happier with her decision and tried to dismiss some of the excuses students have for not living in Okemos.
“The first complaint that other students have is it’s too far away,” Vollmar said. “Really my apartment is only five miles away, and half the cost of apartments in East Lansing.”
Even with her optimism, Vollmar does agree that there’s not that much to do.
“Generally when you live in East Lansing, the majority of your time is going to be spend downtown, as far as Okemos goes, the mall would be the main attraction,” Vollmar said. “There’s not anything that’s really student-oriented.”
Vollmar doesn’t let that fact stop her from enjoying her living situation, which she likes not only because it’s more relaxed, but also because of it’s cost.
“It’s kind of a hidden treasure,” Vollmar said, “it’s not really that far and you get the same amenities for $300 less.”